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Right wing remains in flux as Sabres wait on players to claim spots

Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste can count. They know the Sabres have 15 healthy forwards, including five right wingers. They know that Buffalo will dress 12 forwards and use four right wingers.

What they don't know is if they'll be part of those final numbers when the season starts.

As expected, there is competition at right wing as the Sabres move toward their final cuts. Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville have spots. Seth Griffith, Bailey and Baptiste are trying to earn the other two.

"It's exciting," Baptiste said Tuesday. "It's where I want to be. I want to get in a situation where I'm battling to make the team.

"Clearly, I've done enough to get to this point, which is what I wanted to do. To get down to the last couple of guys to make the team, it's an honor – but I'm not satisfied until I make the team. That's my ultimate goal."

Part of the reason there's uncertainty is no one has stood out. Griffith has one goal, one assist and three shots in three exhibition games. Bailey has no points and two shots in three games while serving as a key penalty-killer. Baptiste has no points and one shot in two outings.

Buffalo has two preseason games left, including a trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Time is getting short for the players to make their case.

"It's nice to still be around," Bailey said in HarborCenter. "Every day that you have practice or a preseason game, you want to show them that you're doing all you can to stay. That's what I'm doing. I'm just taking it day by day, not thinking too far into the future."

The last two practices have shown how unsettled the position remains. Griffith skated with center Sam Reinhart and left wing Benoit Pouliot on Monday, while Bailey was with Jacob Josefson and Nicolas Deslauriers. The right wingers swapped lines Tuesday.

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Baptiste, meanwhile, remained alongside center Johan Larsson and left wing Matt Moulson.

"Hopefully, I can get into one of these preseason games, hopefully both, and show what I can do and show that I should make this team," Baptiste said.

The three competitors have similar traits. They're fast. They have a history of scoring in the American Hockey League. They haven't yet shown they can do it in the NHL.

Griffith has 34 goals and 121 points in his last 95 AHL games. Baptiste had 25 goals and 41 points in 59 games with Rochester last season. Bailey has 42 goals and 81 points in his 122 appearances with the Amerks.

Whoever lines up with Reinhart and Pouliot will be expected to produce.

"I'm a guy who's scored goals in the AHL, but it's not even so much that for me," Baptiste said. "It's just getting pucks to the net and being effective and using my speed, being electric and creating sparks for the team.

"We've got a ton of skill in our top six, so for me it's just providing that energy and be a guy that you can trust out there in every situation."

Indeed, coach Phil Housley has made it clear he wants the wingers to prove they can contribute in ways other than scoring.

Housley on Bailey: "He's been using his speed really well in the practices where it requires the rush or an attack. I think he's done a good job in the preseason games, so we're just going to continue to push him."

Housley on Baptiste: "Nick's doing a great job. He's jumping out there with our goalies before, shooting on the goaltenders. He's working on his game. That's all you can ask from him right now. He just hasn't seen any action lately, but he's been a really good teammate."

It remains to be seen where the players will be good teammates: Buffalo or Rochester? They have two preseason games to provide clues.

"Whether I play six minutes or 16 minutes," Baptiste said, "I've got to make sure every shift I'm playing to my strengths."

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